Black Cherry Chapstick. Marlboro Light. Peter was certain he could taste the sweet and bitter of both, on his lips and on his tongue, as he lay dying, there on the hardscrabble baseball field at Springfield Junior High School. This curious burst of flavors was most unexpected, as he’d only eaten half a banana before leaving his apartment this morning, pre-dawn, on his 51st birthday, unhealthy and unloved.
The paramedics had yet to arrive, and a circle of sweaty, balding, overweight bootcampers formed around Peter, gaping as he gasped for air, flat on his back in the prickly uncut crass. Peter had registered for this early morning outdoor fitness class a week earlier because his ex-wife Janine had told the kids he was getting fat, and the kids couldn’t wait to tell him the news.
Signing up had seemed like a good idea at the time.
Clutching her cell phone, Bernadette, the disturbingly lean fitness instructor, had gone pale – as pale as Peter imagined he must look now, lying there, dying, his heart undone by a sprint to first base.
The sound of sirens grew nearer, and Peter turned his increasingly blurry gaze beyond the dirty sneakers of his fitness classmates to focus on the third base dugout, there on the other side of the dusty baseball field at Springfield Junior High. As his heart slowed, his vision improved slightly — and he could see her there, Suzie Lynwood, in her Jordache jeans and her feathered brown hair and her sleeveless, bright yellow disco croptop, a 7th grade vision, then and now. It was the last day of school, 1979, and Peter had made Suzie a mixed tape to explain the breadth and depth of his undying love. They’d agreed to meet after school.
The paramedics rushed onto the field brandishing oxygen tanks, scissors, masks, rudimentary medical knowledge, and just beyond them Peter could see Suzie light a cigarette and contemplate his gift. She was much taller than he, and when she wriggled her hips to squeeze the cassette case into the back pocket of her tight blue jeans, Peter near died. She smiled at him sweetly, sadly, and dropped the cigarette to the ground. It burned as she struggled, awkwardly and sensually, to remove the tube of Chapstick from the front pocket of her jeans.
Suzie slowly applied a layer of balm to her 14-year-old lips.
Dizzy, breathless, Peter was paralyzed.
“You’re sweet,” Suzie said. “But I like Billy.”
And then she leaned down and kissed him, hard, Black Cherry Chapstick and Marlboro Light exploding in Peter’s mouth, racing to his fluttering heart.
“Have a good summer,” she said, and turned to walk away.
“We’re losing him!” the paramedic shouted to his partner.
Brokenhearted, Peter was and remains so, brokenhearted, there on the dry, uncut grass of the baseball field at Springfield Junior High.